Projects: JEMdigital/Amazonia Interactive

Amazonia Interactive is a very ambitious interactive installation with multiple layers of interacting software and hardware technologies. I worked closely with Chris at JEM to realise the project.

The installation comprises of a powerful PC and graphics card running a custom realtime 3D graphics system, and using external sensors to drive the interactions. Users are 'keyed' in realtime into a synthetic 3D enviroment made from fragments of vegetation and landscape. Users are also tracked and can make selections by touching floating buttons.

They can also participate in several 'modules', with activities incuding catching butterflies, creating a thunderstorm and becoming a tree. It has a full sourround sound sound system and a full voiceover allowing deep immersion into the experience. The whole show from start to finish would take almost 30 minutes, but visitors often take their own route and pick and chose which parts to explore. The installation is very popular  (it caters for both disabled and able-bodied), and attracts many unique visitors to Amazonia.

The look and feel of the entire piece was a result of hundreds of floating 'cutouts' of jungle elements being layered in 3D space, giving the work its particular aesthetic. Users simply make selections by reaching up or left/right and 'touching' the floating buttons. The camera then pans and zooms around the scene revealing hidden animals in the trees and on the floor of the jungle and unlocking detailed information on the animal and its habitat. These 'information pockets' play out on the adjacent wall allowing the exhibit to be experienced and understood by a large group, not just the participants. A pixellation special effect is used to separate the users from the background.

The learning objectives
The piece was designed with the national curriculum in mind. Many of the subjects covered cross-over with school topics eg. the importance of Amazon rainforests, the environment, evolution, conservation. The team at Amazonia consulted with schools and universities on much of the original content for the piece. Visitors leave the attraction with a far richer knowledge of the subject. Amazonia Interactive was never designed as an alternative to seeing the animals in the flesh, buit rather to augment the entire visitor experience.

The modules
The 3 modules are give visitors some short-hit excitement and break up the experience:
• Catch the Butterflies - users jump around trying to 'catch' different species of butterfly. After a score, these are then analysed and information on the species is described. 
• Create a Thunderstorm - users clap to create lightning bolts and thunderclaps as they increase the rainfall. After a score, the importance of Amazonian weather systems is explained.
• Become a Tree - users are 'snapshot' into a tree which grows to an enormous scale withing a forest of other trees. The necessity of the coservation of the rainforests is discussed at the end.

Further modules can be added in the future keeping the exibit fresh.